Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Same Attitude, Different Infrastructure

With the Tour de France nigh ("nigh" is pretentious for "near"), I'm pleased to announce that I will be rendering ("rendering" is Curating 2.0) a Tour de France-themed blog on the Universal Sports website. As with my Universal Giro d'Italia blog, I will endeavor to bring the sort of insight you can only get from somebody who's watching the action on TV, meaning that by the time you read my blog you will be at least twice removed from the actual race. Still, I would not want my objectivity and impartiality to be tainted by proximity to the proceedings, which is why I declined Universal's offer of passage to France as well as my own BSNYC/RTMS-stickered Smart car in the caravan, complete with giant roof-mounted Rip Torn bobblehead. The blog will begin sometime tomorrow, and I will direct you to it via either this blog or my Twittular account as soon as I know what is happening myself.

But while the Tour de France is a world away (unless you're in France, which is apparently a real place where actual people live), it's arguably more worthwhile to take a look at the sort of ordinary cycling many of us engage in every day. If you're in Portland, "ordinary cycling" means engaging in pizza binges or wandering off someplace and doing yoga, but for the rest of us who inhabit that little neighborhood called "reality" it simply means commuting. Of course, bicycle commuting varies from town to town and from city to city, and each locale boasts its own unique and endearing features. For example, in New York City, we have "shoals," and here is a fairly typical one that formed in front of me recently:

Forming the very tip of the shoal is this gentleman, wearing the classic t-shirt-and-half-shorts combo, and as you can see he has placed himself well forward of the traffic signal and entirely in the intersection:


Behind him is a "Beautiful Godzilla," riding a très chic Geared Bike With Front Brake Only (or GBWFBO):

Granted, this shoal is a magnificent and edifying display of New York City's cycling diversity, stretching out into the intersection like Tibetan prayer flags of bike-dorkiness. However, while waiting for anything else--an ATM, a movie ticket, a same-sex toilet--the unwritten rules of humanity to which most of us adhere would dictate that the most recently-arrived human would duly take his or her place at the rear of the queue. This is an age-old concept that has served us well. However, for some reason people feel it is acceptable to completely invert this concept when bicycles are involved, and to me this indicates an inherent and fundamental wrong-headedness among cyclists that we would do well to address.

This is not to say that drivers do not also invert (or at least disregard) laws both implicit and explicit. Consider the fairly typical New York City sight of a driver coming to a stop in the middle of a crosswalk:

In the driver's defense, though, he was quite engrossed in his "old school" Day Runner:

While our phones have now become "smartphones," this has happened at the expense of our own intellects. Indeed, our phones seem to have sucked the brains right out of us to feed their own, for people are increasingly walking, cycling, and driving right into certain death as they stare mesmerized into their handsets. For this reason, more and more municipalities are passing laws against things like driving while texting. However, these laws presumably do not prohibit use of the "classic" analog data organizers, and I can't help wondering if this loophole will mean a sudden resurgence in items like the Rolodex. (Yes, people actually used these.)

I rode along with this particular driver for some time and he barely looked away from his appointment book, even while in motion. It's worth noting that the driver was a Hasidic Jew, and there's a certain irony to the fact that he presumably observes certain laws with precision (the diet; Shabbat; the cultivation and maintenance of hairy tendrils) yet utterly disregards others (stopping before crosswalks at red lights so that others may live). Still, as the old saying goes, when life gives you potatoes, make latkes, and I found that, because he only remembered to start driving again when the person behind him started honking, he effectively stopped traffic and gave me a substantial head start at each light. Yes, for at least a block I'd have the entire street to myself:


Incidentally, you might have noticed the white chevrons on the street. These have been turning up everywhere lately. My understanding is that they're to alert motorists to the presence of bicycles, but in practice they seem mainly to serve as the irony quotes around your "legitimacy" as a cyclist. Still, I'll take what I can get, and so assiduously has the city been adding bike lanes that I sometimes find them actually putting them down right in front of me as I ride:

In this case, the markings are being laid upon a newly-paved street, but sometimes they just paint right over the old crap:

Even on the Big Dummy this section is jarring, and I expect to one day encounter a bike lane that has been painted over an actual flattened cyclist.

After successfully negotiating this section I encountered an SUV belonging to (presumably) some DOT workers, which was parked right in the bike lane:

Despite ample legal parking mere feet away across the street:

I can forgive an official vehicle parked in a bike lane if there's no place else to stop and the business is fairly urgent, but it's a bit irritating when there is plenty of parking and all they're doing is shaking a fence:

At that point they simply become like that douchebag friend-of-a-friend who comes to your house, puts his feet up on your coffee table, and leaves the door open while he urinates just to show you how comfortable he is.

Of course, bike lanes remain a hot-button issue in New York City (as opposed to a hot-box issue, which is best left to a gynecologist), though to some degree it's just a construct of the local media. First there was that whole "Hipsters vs. Hasidim" thing, which was more about the alliteration than anything else, and was compelling less because it was an actual issue and more because it gave everyone a chance to witness a slapfight between the two dorkiest groups in New York City. Now, there's a brand-new bike lane that runs along Prospect Park and through Park Slope, where the people who think they're saving the Earth by buying incredibly expensive groceries live:

It's an impressive installation, complete with cyclist-specific traffic signals, though it's met with resistance for the usual array of reasons with varying degrees of merit: it creates traffic; it takes away parking; the cyclists are menacing pedestrians; and so forth. Generally speaking I think bike lanes are a good thing and I mostly like this one, but it also underscores a fundamental irony in that it's right next to the park:

The park is quite pleasant to ride through--more so than the bike lane--though it's also open to motor vehicle traffic during rush hour on weekdays. Personally, I'd be willing to sacrifice the new bike lane for a car-free park, but for some reason the city seems unable to wrap their minds around the concept of a park that doesn't have cars in it. I guess it's not a "deal" unless everybody loses.

Still, as I said, I like the bike lane, and it's probably safer to use it at night than to ride through the park, where nefarious nocturnal activities still do take place. Actually, they take place during the day, too, for I recently encountered someone shooting what can only be some kind of bizarre chef porn:

And unfortunately, it's inevitable that many cyclists will continue to fuel opposition to the bike lane with their actions. For example, I was using it yesterday evening when I found myself behind what appeared to be a couple of people sharing a bicycle:

They were laughing and carrying on boisterously. However, there were too many voices for a couple, and as I passed I realized they were in fact a threesome:

Naturally, bar ends came into play, for when it comes to bicycle components they are truly the instruments of the damned:


Notice also that in ultra-smug Park Slope the reusable shopping bag has become a status symbol (even though they're riddled with bacteria):

This one's especially desirable since it's from Safeway, which we don't even have in New York City, so it shows she's both smug and well-traveled.

The trio seemed rather intoxicated. This was confirmed to me by the Safeway bag owner's cigarette, which in true drunken fashion she was smoking right down to the filter:

In the smug universe, smoking's not bad for you or anybody else as long as you don't use plastic bags.

Needless to say, the rider seemed quite proud of himself:

This being Park Slope, I imagine they were coming from a party, where both women had a bit too much fine wine, artisanal cheese, and locally-sourced crudités. This made them particularly vulnerable to the man's seductive views about "livable streets," the BP oil spill, and the Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation. Then, he uttered the coup de grâce: "My bicycle's parked outside. Do you ladies want to come check out my compost pile? I live next-door to Paul Auster." Once at the brownstone, he dimmed the lights, turned on NPR (NPR is the Park Slope equivalent of Barry White), and they started "gettin' sustainable."

No wonder people are complaining.


90 comments:

Anonymous said...

first?

Astroluc said...

first?

wishiwasmerckx said...

Another first place?

poole said...

Podium?

TImmy said...

O Canada!

Astroluc said...

painted bike lanes... GREAT in the rain :/

ringcycles said...

with the throw

ant1 said...

ant1st!

Kevin said...

Podium!

tail said...

in the break

wishiwasmerckx said...

A podium finish, at least. Typing two extra words apparently cost me the top step.

mander said...

CHEF PORN

leroy said...

I could have made the podium but I had a wardrobe malfunction.

Is it just me or is First Avenue above Houston invoking the feel of cobblestones with none of the charm?

hillbilly said...

Looking forward to the TDF blog.

Anonymous said...

When faced with a shoal attack, go diagonal like the hasidic school bus drivers and block the lane. Like Colt 45, it works everytime.

Anonymous said...

Leroy, if you're talking about the un-pavé, yes, but the good thing is it keeps the traffic and the shoaling down.

matt said...

Snob,
You failed to mention the woman on the handlebar is wearing Burkenstocks!

Anonymous said...

in the breakaway and I've read it.

for all the shit that happens in NY cycling, it's not bad - it's just that you can only pile so much infrastructure onto existing streets and still have them be a workable solution.
Cities like Portland have their smug little master-planned, livable, new urbanist communities, but they are giving up all the thrill of living in a real city.

Kitty Wu-hoo said...

Ah, Austerity in Park Slope!

One less kombucha per week.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Matt,

It's Park Slope, the Birkenstocks are assumed.

--BSNYC

theshepherdsdog said...

bike lanes? we don't have those where I live

Anonymous said...

that is awesome! Snob is down with what is wrong with society. People who listen to NPR are nothing but communist tools!

smugseattle said...

For as "bike friendly" as Seattle tries to be, I think that the department in charge of bike lanes and paths is staffed by the idiots they couldn't out and out fire.

There are some scary lanes on scary streets. And the "sharrow" concept is idiotic on industrial throughfares or narrow two lane roads with no shoulder. Meh. Hooray for the power of smug and sanctimonious city planning!

Anonymous said...

I'm obsessed with the mess that's Americaaa

uuuh

bikesgonewild said...

...leroy sez "I could have made the podium but I had a wardrobe malfunction."...

...hmmm...you been walking 'round wif yo pants on the ground ???...again ???...

Anonymous said...

Paul Auster? I read City of Glass on a bus from krakow to frankfurt, it was the worst book I ever read.

J said...

As I understand it the "point" of the Prospect Park West lane (other than making the extraordinarily wealthy people who live on Prospect Park West hopping mad) is: A) to provide a that can be accessed from more than three points between Grand Army Plaza and Bartel Pritchard Square; and B) to allow cyclists to move down that hill, whereas in theory vehicles, cars and bikes alike, in the park only move in a single direction.

Not that that prevents people from launching themselves against traffic at all hours of the day, but.

Anonymous said...

Starting to think the "2.0" is getting old....

Anonymous said...

My opinion wouldn't matter, except for the fact I am writing it while en route from one European city to another.

streepo said...

I had that too, that France is a real place with real people. I still think that it is just a rumor though.

Anonymous said...

Bike shoaling happens everywhere, whats worse is that most of the bike shoalers I've seen are slow riders, forcing me to pass them up using the normal traffic lane.
Can't we all just get along, under my set of rules and noone elses?

Klaus Mohn said...

More miles of bike lanes is better if you're a city planner. that's why two shitty bike itineraries are better than a proper one.

mrg said...

whatever you are on today (the shitter?), do it more. Me likes.
Excellent way to start my holiday weekend.

JTK said...

Where is the frontway shot of the ginger Godzilla? Looks promising. I'm sure she could have contributed to the catalog of the non-plussed.

bikesgonewild said...

...streepo sez "I had that too, that France is a real place with real people. I still think that it is just a rumor though."...

...so, ant1...we need an experts opinion on "france-y stuff"...is it real or is that "tour" thingy just shot in a studio w/ backdrops ???...

...i've been to disneyland & seen some pretty incredible stuff & i know there's a euro-disney...so-o-o...

...i'm not sayin' but i'm just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

hahaha the last part defines my existence. lets get sustainable!

Pulverized Concepts said...

"I live next-door to Paul Auster."

That's about an 8.5 on the pretension index.

Pontius Pilate said...

HAIL CSZR

-P.P.

3G said...

That final paragraph is so well written and indicative of Brooklyn 2.0 that it should be added to the New York State Driver's License exam

Fred said...

Meh, all these newbies with their bacteria-infested shopping bags are just pretend-Freds. I've had an NPR tote bag slung on the back of my recumbent since 1989. It's perfect for carrying a PB and banana sandwich on sprouted wheat, an extra pair of dark socks and my Powerbook.

grog said...

I want one: "giant roof-mounted Rip Torn bobblehead" if you will sign it.

Simian Attorney said...

Bike Snob,

Fair warning: There is nothing in Vito's rider/contract suggesting he is the one who should be lighting your fireworks this year.

Paul Bowen said...

"my own BSNYC/RTMS-stickered Smart car in the caravan, complete with giant roof-mounted Rip Torn bobblehead"

I would actually give money to see that. Not enough money to make it happen, but some.

Lovely post.

Anonymous said...

i like the new bike lane adjacent to the park. I ride a few laps in the park and then ride it back and forth a few times to cool down before i go go home...it is generally a flat stretch.
the worst part of the new lanes is that people ride side by side like couples holding hands while walking down the sidewalk; and also dogs dart out from between the park cars as people come to walk them in prospect from the houses across the street.

Salty and Sore said...

mmm... commute porn and mentions of the ever-forbidden (though seductive) cheese...

Snob-

You're preparing well for your next epic-cycling assignment.

Congrats! and I wish you well. I look forward to falling behind in class all over again.

frilly said...

Too bad you're married Fred. With a set-up like that, I wouldn't mind gettin' sustainable.

PB & banana is my favorite, especially in oatmeal. Think you could find room in the tote for a Jetboil?

Salty and Sore said...

Anon 1:39-

Portland's not a real city.

It's where other cities go for vacation.

ringcycles said...

Frilly, be careful with your flirtations. Not that I have anything against Fred, but I hear that once you go 'bent you never go back.

heath said...

meh.

Sigurd said...

Ah yes, Snobby is in form today.

PARK DORK
BIKE 3SUM
LANE PLUG
TOTE HOEZ

matt said...

artis-anal!

mep said...

I'm all for "gettin sustainable". In fact, I'll prolly sustain to that chef porn. Alright, no Larry King - and there it went. Time to abstain.

Anonymous said...

Artisan is the new green

ant1 said...

bgw - it's real, and it's spectacular.

michael said...

Once, long ago in a land far away, Miami, Coconut Grove, on a dark and sultry night, riding along the Main Highway bike path, which is divided from the road by a greenway of small tropical plants, I was
narrowly missed by a Harley motocycle ridden by a drunken nutcase that stopped just ahead on me to
explain he'd mistaken my tiny rear light for another
motocycle. Thrillin' and scary.

Now I always ride down the middle of the street....

Yussef said...

Ha! Love the king of park slope. He is truly one to be emulated.

bikesgonewild said...

...monsieur ant1...while i respect your opinion, i deem it to be heavily biased...

...besides, i heard the waiters are rude...

ant1 said...

bgw - the waiters may be rude, but that's a small price to pay for eating the world's best food in the world's best setting. no bias, i swear.

wishiwasmerckx said...

BGW, it is a good thing that the dollar has been rallying against the euro lately, because American tourism has been down so much that the French waiters have had to resort to insulting each other.

Toxteth said...

Sharrows

http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Sharrow

g said...

The last time I was in France, the Americans were so obnoxious, I insulted myself.

I will say that my fondest memory of France was on the Champs at the end of the 100th Tour in 2003, on my birthday and none other than Eddie Merckx and Miguel Indurain walk by. That and the foods pretty good too...

ringcycles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ringcycles said...

monsieur Ant1st meant to say:
c'est incroyable!

The waiters are as rude as the tourists are ignorant, regardless the nationality.

As for American tourists, it stuns me that as David Sedaris observed, we go to the most elegant city on the globe and dress like we're there to mow their lawns.

My best time was 2001 tour, on the corner of Champs Elysees-Place de la Concorde at 600m from the finish all afternoon. Dinner at the Fermette St. Hubert that evening.

Vegas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vegas said...

Hopefully this Universal blog won't skip the last and most important stages of the TdF like the Giro one did.

Kent Johnson said...

Well in Sydney's Centennial Park they have one Car-Free day a year. Agreed, why can't they get their heads around the idea of a park without cars!

sarliaee said...

he's back baby, he's back!

Anonymous said...

Hand Solo here. I am Lance Armstrong's former Team Astana under assistant bottom bracket tech. I can reveal here that I juiced Contador's BB and loaded Lance's ride with a Walmart Huffy BB. My book will be out any day now. "Confessions of a Rich No Principled Back Dealing Crook Cheat and HGH/EPO Peddler." By Yohan Bruneell Ferarri. Hey! Did I mention that I was the guy that applied the radio remote controlled electrodes the Vino's testes? You know, the TdF where Vino became a Time Trial Champ?

PCM said...

He should be proud of himself. I've very jealous. He f*cking is King of Park Slope!

Anonymous said...

"My bicycle's parked outside. Do you ladies want to come check out my compost pile? I live next-door to Paul Auster." This is the funniest thing I've read all year.

bikesgonewild said...

...i was just informed that the waiters in france were rude to me because while i though i had been humming 'la marsellaise', it turns out in fact it was 'colonel bogey's march' i had running through my head...

...l'absurdite', les amis...

bikesgonewild said...

...vegas...i couldn't agree more...

...when i saw him @ the snob-book signing in sf, i roundly castigated him for dropping that last giro post...

...his weak excuse ???..."my wife was giving birth to our first newborn child...i felt like i should be directing my energy towards that joyous occasion & the two loves of my life, mother & child"...

...i mean, honestly...what a lack of responsibility towards his 'universal' readers...

...just sayin'...

ant1 said...

"the two loves of my life, mother & child"

the mistress isn't gonna like reading that:)

I am the engine. said...

Hard to visualize a safeway bag as exotic and showing that you are "well traveled".

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of "smartphones" and their accompanying stupidities, but as I recall, people were stupid before they got smartphones. (Yes, I am that old). As witness the bicycle threesome--no phones requred, smart or dull-witted. But hey, why pick on bike threesomes? Don't cyclists have the right to make asses of themselves in public just like people on four wheels? We can't do as much damage as an SUVer checking his stupidphone while driving, not even if we try.

CommieCanuck said...

Well, that balding guy on the bike with the two hot drunk chicks is my hero. If he can ride with two wasted chicks, carrying bags, and smoking, then I do not need to waste time watching the Tour De France, and waiting for Lance's undoped ass to be dropped, I've seen the ride of July.

Clearly, some PEDs will be required for the rest of that evening, but I know that guy will never claim he never tested positive for anything.

THREEWAYSTRONG

I can also avoid all the Vershit coverage of Lance, and the flags flapping, and the eagle imagery, and the career retrospective, and his black book of celebrity blondes and children. Feh.

CommieCanuck said...

the mistress isn't gonna like reading that:)

Neither is John Coltrane or the president of Scattante, Inc.

CommieCanuck said...

i though i had been humming 'la marsellaise', it turns out in fact it was 'colonel bogey's march' i had running through my head...

Take the "Arse" out of it and add an "a" and you have "mallaise".

Just sayin'.

Vegas said...

Thanks, bgw, I feel better knowing I wasn't the only one. And double thanks for getting an answer! Although like you say, a kind of poor one haha.

I think it mostly just came as such a huge shock to me. The blog was so good and I was enjoying it so immensely. I was not watching the tv, so it was actually my "coverage", and to miss those two stages and then come back with just the mild race summary/TdF forecast was a let down.

Hopefully something weak like a wedding, illness, or family emergency doesn't interrupt the TdF blog. ;)

ejaz14357 said...

Typing two extra words apparently cost me the top step.

g2webhost said...

good more.
.....
Discount Wheels | Buy Laptops

Anonymous said...

Bike Snob, you should post pictures of your bikes so we can critique them.

Justine Valinotti said...

Your comments about Park Slope are spot-on. I lived there for eleven years, mostly during the 90's, and it was full of the sort of people who thought they were helping to save the planet by using a credit card from a bank that donates to Greenpeace.

But their "eco-consciousness" is really a green veil over guilt they feel about the green they make and spend. A poor peasant on a Caribbean island who eats the mangoes she picks from the tree in her yard or the fish he caught that day leaves less of a carbon footprint than anyone who lives in the Slope, or in any of the self-styled ecotopias of this country. Those people can't afford artisanal cheese: They make it themselves.

Blair Sorrel said...

Greetings! Unfortunately, some riders discover a danger, only sadly, when victimized. And so I wanted to inform you of StreetZaps.com. I confer with Con Edison's Stray Voltage and Public Affairs Units and contribute to Wet Nose Guide and New York Dog Chat. Further, our electrical collaborators anticipate more summer than winter shockings in the years ahead.

Many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best,

Blair Sorrel

WHY URBAN METAL ISN'T PRECIOUS- Blair Sorrel, Founder, www.StreetZaps.com

Of course, you want a worry-free ride year-round, so adopt this simple strategy:

EYEBALL THE BLOCK, AVOID A SHOCK.

Take just a few seconds to survey the immediate surroundings and make your trajectory toward a non-conductive surface, ie., plastic, wood, cardboard, rather than risking any metal or electrical fixture. The lowly, free-standing garbage bag, is you and your dog's best friend, most of the time, unless it's snowed and salted. Then you might contemplate indoor products. Consider the safer, hardware-free RopeNGo leash and harness to help shield against a possible zapping and for greater peace of mind.

CONTACT VOLTAGE DOESN'T DISCRIMINATE BY GENDER.

Your pooch's sex is irrelevant. True, the most gruesome scenario is that of a male dog electrocuted by its own urine. Our poster girl sidled a hydrant and limped for five days.Intuit your dog's cues, if resistant to an area, choose an alternative route. Elude potentially live work areas or carry your canine, if necessary. Opt for indoor products such as The Pet Loo, Hammacher Schlemmer's Indoor Restroom, or Wee-Wee Pads, if external conditions are ominous. Dog booties can leak and make your pooch even more vulnerable.

ARE YOU PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH YOUR DOG?

Any of these fixtures might be dangerous, so again, choose non-conductive where and when possible. (link to home page fixtures listed below and/or the visuals page):

View All StreetZaps' Home Page & Safety Images

– Street & Traffic Lights can leak if damaged internally, even if the compartment is fully closed and the light is not illuminated

– While wooden blocks anchor Scaffolding or Sidewalk Sheds, be aware that sloppy wiring by a contractor and/or the use of lighting equipment which is NOT WATER-PROOFED or even suitable for outdoor usage, may still shock a passerby.

– ATM Vestibules

– Decorative Lighting

– Dog Booties may increase
the risk of a shock

- Electrical Boxes

– Fire Hydrants

– Fire Police Call Boxes

– Manhole Covers

– Muni Meters

– Phone Booths

– Service Boxes

– Street Light Boxes

– Traffic Boxes

– Work Areas

After all, why chance it when there's a choice?

BETWEEN YOU, ME, AND THE LAMPPOST.

Tampered equipment can become pernicious so please map (Report Form) damaged fixtures and known hot spots.

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fixie bikes said...

i bet you didnt feel awkward taking those pictures or nothing